Durango photographer Branson Reynolds, known for his love of the mountains, deserts, rivers and Indigenous people of the Four Corners, died Jan. 14 after suffering complications from heart surgery.
Reynolds, 74, was popular among hobbyists with cameras for the multiday workshops he led to sharpen their skills. He was especially fond of landscape photography around the Four Corners and documenting the Native American cultures of the region’s tribes.
“He was a great observer of things,” said his friend, Paul Ambrose, who recently moved to Brookings, Oregon, but lived for 30 years in Durango, where he met Reynolds in the 1980s.
“You could walk around the canyons with him, and he would say, ‘OK, if I were an Anasazi, I would be posted on lookout up there, where I could see the whole canyon, and I’d probably be making arrowheads.’ We’d hike up there, and sure enough it would have a really good view and chipped stone was all over the place,” he said.
Reynolds had a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in biology from Colorado State University.
Ambrose said Reynolds’ attraction to Southwest Colorado came when he was photographing Ancestral Puebloan artifacts for cataloging at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
“The Anasazi stuff kept coming, and he grew more and more fascinated by it, and he wanted to see where it was coming from,” Ambrose said.
Reynolds’ fascination with Ancestral Puebloan artifacts led him to move first to Santa Fe and eventually to Durango, Ambrose said.
Once he was settled in Durango, Reynolds would take longer and longer field trips around the Four Corners to photograph landscapes, Ancestral Puebloan sites and to photo document life on Native American reservations.
“Every cool place we know in the Southwest is because of Branson,” Ambrose said. “I don’t know how many trips we took with him, it must have numbered in the hundreds. If there was a highway that went where he was going or if there were 15 back roads that would get you to the same place, he would always take the back roads.”
Ambrose said Reynolds eventually would spend more and more time out in the field.
“He’d be out in the bush in his little Jeep, writing and shooting photographs for weeks at a time,” Ambrose said. “And he just learned to became one with the vibe of the land and the people who lived there before him.”
In later years, as Reynolds lost his ability to immerse himself in extended Four Corners trips, he found solace in caring for his dogs, said his stepson, Justin Myers. His last three dogs were named Aazu, Kenda and Akitzu.
Reynolds was a friend of Annie’s Orphans, a no-kill canine shelter in La Plata County. He frequently photographed the dogs to help them get adopted.
“Branson was an incredibly kind person, and that’s his most redeeming quality. It is why so many people in Durango knew him. He had a profound love for nature and animals,” Myers said.
Reynolds’ photography and written works were published in thousands of publications nationwide, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, Myers said.
In accordance with Reynolds’ wishes, a celebration of life is planned on the banks of the Animas River when conditions permit, likely in August.
In addition to his stepsons, Reynolds is survived by a granddaughter and several nieces and nephews.
[email protected]This story has been updated to correct a headline in which Branson Reynolds’ first name was misspelled.